Movie Reviews

Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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This one won’t leave me.

This is the story of a man (Walter Mitty by Ben Stiller) who has been traumatized into a way of living that is half dream and half reality. Sounds a bit like Science of Sleep (an all-time fave of mine). The reason I love and find this theme underrated is that it recognizes the complex inter-wiring of our mental and emotional worlds. The idea admits that daydreaming is kind of an adaptive mechanism for someone who feels displaced and too sensitive to push through and lay a new path through the landscape of human experience.

Anyone on drugs would acknowledge escape as their MO as well. It’s all addiction. Even if you aren’t plugging a syringe into your vein on a daily basis or downing shots in a secret bar stop on the way home, you still need to ask yourself: what are you addicted to? Is it legal or illegal–is there any question that it could be just as devastating either way? Daydreaming to the extent that Mitty does is arguably destructive–in his case to the degree that his dad’s death must have destroyed his sense of trust in the world.

Stiller’s posture and looming, faraway gaze convinced me that I HAD to love his character, because I somehow related to his situation–how he was trapped in a hyper-secure life inspired by great insecurity, to the point of living mainly through intense daydream sequences that cause everyone in his vicinity to find him a bit strange. Likewise, the other well-cast characters inspired appropriate levels of allegiance and disgust to immerse my mind in the plots and points.

The color, cinematography and wide camera shots create a super-real effect throughout the film, which is nice, because I hate it when a film is indecisive about what it is. This one is more a challenge to reality than a look at it, almost in the same way that Life of Pi is. And yet it’s more variegated (to the relief of those who grew tired of the boy, boat and tiger).

The plot revolves around Mitty’s intermittent dips into fantasy, and a series of events that yank him out of this habit and throw him into living a more action-filled life. Some of the key sub-plots involve his discussions with an eHarmony representative, his obsession with a woman at work (Cheryl Melhoff by Kristen Wiig), his interactions with his boss at Life Magazine, and his reconciliation of the magazine going digital rendering his job as the manager of photo negatives obsolete. But the main plot vein runs up from the deep and surfaces more than halfway through the film. It involves his relationship with the elusive and legendary photographer Sean O’Connell (by Sean Penn).

This relationship is introduced when O’Connell sends through what he terms his greatest photo of all time, as a negative packed amidst a gift and a letter, an unusual display of expression and appreciation toward Mitty. Problem is, the one photo he claims is the best among a string of negatives, number 25, is missing. As the announcement of Life’s last print run is made, the pressure is on for Mitty to produce this photo for the cover. But O’Connell is highly elusive and constantly on the move, refusing to be tied down to any mode of formal communication.

Amidst taunting about his daydreaming disposition, Mitty faces additional pressure to do his job right for the magazine’s grand finale. If there is one thing he’s done all of his 16 years at the company, it’s keep track of negatives. Wrongfully accused on yet another level, he sinks into himself but somehow through discussions with this eHarmony representative it dawns on him that he hasn’t done anything in so long that he should live a little. So he sets out to find O’Connell. Through his adventures we are taken to Greenland for the first time in blockbuster history, and thanks to the cinematography, it’s an unforgettable experience.

The chase continues to Iceland and Afghanistan as Mitty goes from a man who’s greatest thrill of any given week is taking the subway to his mother’s house for cake, to a Himalaya-climbing, professional skateboarding survivor of shark attack and massive volcanic explosion. Indeed, Mitty was due for a life change, a celestial transit of sorts. When he meets O’Connell, he’s so worn down to his own essence that we might be a bit surprised by his candor in approaching such a legendary figure.

The scene of their meeting is the absolute climax of the film, alluding to the deepest layer of its meaning: a moment lived and memorized, more than merely photographed, daydreamed, or documented, is by far the most worthwhile, if we only have the guts to be in it, the patience to recognize it and the will to allow it to take us over.

From there we have a succession of such moments, which become all our own, which become a rich life. From there, we build this confidence that, from our very breath outward, we use to direct a life that we alone are charged with deeming worthwhile.

In the end, a person must master fantasy, hearsay, authority, propaganda, programming, media framing and peer pressure enough to live a life in the realm of what anyone could term authentic. And yet it’s a worthy goal for sure. I for one, as much as I might delight in any level of recognition for accomplishments, crave such an unadulterated consciousness when going about the business of life. I write about this movie because it provided a nice related compass point.

 

 

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Poetry/Prose

Who the F*#@ Says

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•Your granted wish will instantly charm you when it comes

•A life without challenge and mystery would feel great

•People who care deeply smile the most

•The words “I love you” are objective

•People are aware of their deepest motivations

•You can’t love your parents like you wish they’d love you

•Your deepest fears are best avoided

•Humans are the most intelligent species on Earth

•You are the same person now that you will be in a year

•Love is easy

•Suffering is fairly distributed

•Life wants you to make sense of it

•What you think you want will make you happy

•Good planning trumps a gut instinct

•A PhD guarantees intelligence

•Being happy is naive, or easy, or automatic

•Kindness is weakness

•Being cold is cool

•Ants don’t feel love

•Her figure didn’t take sacrifice

•An emasculated female is a favorable result of feminism

•Our ego wants the best for us

•What is a compliment to you is not insulting someone else

•The music is good

•A smile is innocent

•Angels don’t direct the cat

•Your thoughts don’t count

 

 

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WoodenHorse

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Welcome the Year of the Wooden Horse

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lastaddiction(This is a concept. I’d like to explore it in huge format–with the nymph small and the color scheme altered in different ways, but always simply two.)

 

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The Last Addiction (January 2014)

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photo (9)

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Freedom (January 1, 2014)

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Long Time (December 2013)

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ride it

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Ride It (Gouache, September 2013)

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Movie Reviews

The Bridge on the River Kwai–Review and Bonus Expat Confessions

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 1.50.35 PMCan We Escape Principle?

About a month ago, I watched a classic movie called “Bridge on the River Kwai.” This is both a review of that movie and of life as an expat. Because in reality there are so many parallels between this movie and living in a country where the society is so different, so … ad hoc.

River Kwai didn’t win seven Oscars for nothing. The slow build of the plot is dotted by scenery and acting that, for the time, was unprecedented in quality. The idea is that a group of captured British and American soldiers are held in a Japanese PoW camp in what is now Thailand. The conditions around the camp are so wild and infested that escape would surely be met by death due to impotable water and ubiquitous disease.

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 1.52.07 PMOne American soldier named “Shears” (William Holden) escapes, however. Drama around his ordeal aside, this character seems insignificant for most of the film. Meanwhile, Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) experiences a special level of detention in the camp because he won’t cooperate with the building of a bridge. For months, he’s kept in a small doghouse, locked away from sun and fed like an animal. He develops a kind of rickets and looks awful. His acting combined with makeup and setting are edgy in terms of bringing you into the feeling of what it was like. It’s important that we feel how he did, too, because we need to understand the will power driving his actions–that he would volunteer for that experience based on principle.

(BTW: The jungle sets and attention to detail in this film are breathtaking for the year it was made.)

Anyway, the Japanese code of honor eventually overcomes the situation as Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) chooses to release Nicholson over killing himself—the bridge has to be built and he can’t figure out how to do it in time. But Nicholson can.

Upon his release, Nicholson is seized by a drive to make his country proud and defy the circumstances—he’s going to build the best bridge known to man and show all the Japanese (and in his mind, the world) what British leadership and workmanship is capable of achieving.Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 1.50.54 PM

This is where Shears comes back in. We find him recovering from a harrowing escape and near-death levels of disease in a military hospital setting along a tropical beach. He’s pulled out of a fling with a nurse to face Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) who calls his bluff about his rank and gives him an ultimatum. Either go back to the camp and help the Americans blow up the bridge or face imprisonment for lying about status.

Faced with this decision, Shears reluctantly joins Warden and a young officer (this character adds a dash of innocence and objectivity, as does the medic’s character … you just have to watch it) as they cut back through the tropics and find the bridge. This is where I have to stop the review because this is where the best part of the movie occurs. It’s kind of like an amazing song that just builds and builds and then ‘bam!’ it all comes together. The sheer choreography of the plot—the way that the characters dance their way into your interest and make you squirm in your seat, and the way they seem to stand aside to reveal the bigger idea being expressed—is worth studying if you have any interest in film.

When it’s all over, we see Nicholson, Shears and Warden in completely different lights. We don’t know what to feel at first. But eventually, we are kind of left with the concept of principle.

We realize that Nicholson’s drive based on principle is one we all seem to live by. If we look inside ourselves, we are programmed according to principles. And yet, how does that work out when you are in an environment that is, in so many ways, over your head.

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 1.51.16 PMWell, it’s easy, you just continue according to your program and then one day you are forced to open your eyes, wide. You see that everyone and everything around you is so much more complicated than it was when your program was developed, back in your hometown, in your school days, at your kitchen table, dorm, first office job, in your first relationships.

If you’re an expat, you’ve actually made a quantum leap. And this movie hit me so hard over the head precisely because it showed me through its artistic precision how that quantum leap renders many principles and programs obsolete. This is especially the case in Qatar, where the jungle is replaced by the unwillingness to leave a nice, comfy existence. The war backdrop and criss-crossing of cultures is replaced by a maniacal pace of human development and mass influx of people from all cultures chiming in their efforts. We are coexisting and it’s strangely similar to what this wartime film examines.

What I’m finding, after almost five years as an expat, is that I have fought this, hard. I insist on my principles and it’s killing me. However, what other principles and programs are there?

A big part of me wakes up some mornings and wants to scrap them all. But that’s not the key either. In fact it’s stupid AND impossible. It’s a very meticulous process to go through experiences with your programs in place, interact with people, discover that they don’t work, try again based on program modifications and find that they still need tweaking and on and on and on.

This is at every level of socialization and living as an expat–from conversations with a bank teller, to ordering sushi over the phone to explaining your standards to a lover and opening yourself to all of these people’s perspectives, sometimes too late, but at least in time to learn. Now, I don’t think a lot of people do this, actually. I think  a lot of people go into another country and say “this is me; this place is weird; I’ll make the best of it—neither are changing.”

But I came here, I left the US, to be changed. I was tired of my insular existence. I was tired of being trapped in my original programs. So here I am–open wide. Looking at myself, tweaking, trying, growing, changing, at a pace I can’t even track, from a person I don’t think I’d recognize if I met her.

I study Nicholson because he was so attached to principle that, well, you just have to watch the movie. I don’t want to end up that way. And so every day, I have to look at the lessons and make the modifications. In some cases, as with Filipinos for instance, I have to manage every situation, yet not so much that I’m cruel or cold, which, when I’m really tired of managing every single thing all day long, is a tall order.

Still, I have to. They come from a place and a lifestyle that is laid back and not as intricate and proactive. In fact it’s downright poor there and for me to critique them is really inhumane. At the same time, I have to forgive myself because I have my programming too … thing is, only one of us is ever in a mode to change it. Me.

I come from the opposite society. It’s like a bull running through a China shop when I get into a business situation with these people. But I see now that I am the one with the understanding of the dynamic. And with that understanding comes responsibility and the opportunity to get stronger, more resilient, more in tune, more dynamic, more present, more intuitive. Just plain more. Every day, it’s another onslaught of lessons, totally improv. I pass, I fail, I ace some, I fall on my face. But I’m in it, and every single time I’m sensitive to what happened.

Principle says: “they can see what’s going on, why don’t they think about creative and proactive ways to solve the problem in front of us?!”

Reality says: “they are present, participating in a system according to rules and either too scared or too new to understand how to take the situation to another level.”

In the movie, principle said: never give in, build the bridge to the highest standards, live off pride and shove it in the face of the Japanese.

But reality said something waaaay different. If you are an expat, watch this movie. Even if you’re not, it’s good.

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Sometimes it's good to let the big hand take you where you're meant to go.

Sometimes it’s good to let the big hand take you where you’re meant to go.

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Surrender (Gouache, August 2013)

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Music/Book Reviews

Summer Go-to Music

Hit on some solid stuff this summer and felt the need to share.

The top two selections are new music and the collections linked are 100 percent solid, IMO. Their genres push the edges of those existing. Here goes.

Tycho—Dive

I stumbled on Scott Hansen’s masterwork when listening to another favorite of mine, Ulrich Schnauss … must say Hansen trumped what brought me to him. Indeed, this has colored my world. Every time I listen it drills me deeper into my feelings, so I use it carefully. I can’t say that it had me looking through a lens because this stuff pushes me deeper inside myself, to close my eyes and see beyond my wildest dreams. Sometimes I use Tycho even when it isn’t playing out loud—my mind will produce the tracks and I feel them massage my heart, connect me to a part of myself.

Hansen’s blog’s (ISO50) playlists have become a source of inspiration for me as well. I listen to them while I paint or mill around the house. He and his crew are either out on the edge or in the deepest cuts of artists like “Yes.” It’s really otherworldly. I recommend highly.

Toro y Moi—Anything in Return

I found this guy, Chaz Bundick, through the ISO50 blog, actually. He’s since medicated my summer. Bundick’s apparently the father of a new “Chill Wave” movement. I first heard the song “Say That,” off of the album “Anything in Return,” and was hooked. THEN, I watched the video—and I thought “this guy really gets it … WTF, he’s just awesome!!” Rose quartz then rung my neck and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Zero 7—Best Of (Emphasis on a couple of remixes)

Okay, this is hardly new or edgy. But something about this collection, with its experimental remixes, as a whole, rocked my socks this summer and continues to. Here are a few hints:

Finally, blast from the past …

INXS—Best Of

I realize every time I listen to this collection that:

A) I don’t get sick of any of the songs because B) the message inside each song is totally evolved and the music that goes with it supports this.

This music is timeless. It’s about enjoying life, and after all the yoga and meditation I’ve done, I find that it’s actually really evolved and consistently sophisticated and positive in its message.

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Turtle Time (Gouache, June 2013)

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Goodbye gouache paper, forever!! This is first in a series of small on big color. Stay tuned …

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I Like You, Too (Gouache, June 2013)

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Poetry/Prose

We are all young once

snowflake poem

We all take a shit

after waking up

from a dip  in the

pillow drool pool …

morning breath

of hatchling dragons

Every day I get older,

hoist a cross,

scatter delusions

of frozen time

Only a blind soul

unto their own sight,

has eyes in their heart,

sees the self completely,

and passes right through

these involuntary defenses

By Heart alone,

illusion becomes what it is

My closest companions

bypass pretention

to which we women obsessively attend

overcome their eyeballs

see the dirt for the flower

I know that look,

return to it,

 live

for such sweet relief

Everyone else,

alas,

you’ve always left me

more alone

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Up Close and Personal (Concept, Guache, May 2013)

A sketch from a decade ago turns into a painting that longs for a better color scheme–here’s the first attempt anyway ;)

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Up Close and Personal (Concept, Guache, May 2013)

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Cutting Through the Mean Reds with the Blues

Working with gouache is like eating with your eyes … mmmm, yummy.

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Cutting Through the Mean Reds with the Blues (April 2013)

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